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The Terror of NaNoWriMo

November 15, 2011

by Kelly Vo

Before you start NaNoWriMo, you feel a sort of excited terror. You are ready to get started; you believe that you can do it; you want to do it; yet, at the same time, you feel nervous and unqualified. You call yourself all sorts of crazy because you have to write fifty thousand words in a month—who are you kidding? Then, week one begins. You are ready to go; you pull your computer out; you open up your fresh word document; and now what? You have a blank page, but where are the words you need?

On my first day of NaNoWriMo, I stared at my lovely white Word document for a full hour in the hopes that somehow, if I concentrated hard enough, black text would begin to magically appear. It didn’t. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone. My NaNoWriMo buddy was at the table across from me, and she helped me push through until all of a sudden, magic did happen and the page was covered with little black words that sometimes made sense and formed complete sentences.

Having a buddy who you can talk with, share with, laugh with, cry with, bounce ideas off of, and commiserate with, is one of the most important aspects of NaNoWriMo. I know that my novel would have stayed unwritten and just an unrealized idea if not for my buddy. Every day, whether I was discouraged or excited, I knew that I could go to my buddy for the help I needed. If I was feeling confident and excited, she made me even more excited and helped transform my abstract excitement into concrete story writing. If I was having an awful day, she would help to push me out of my funk and find the words that I needed. Many times, it was just enough to know that she struggled as much as I did.

My NaNoWriMo buddy kept me accountable each and every day, and if I didn’t complete my word assignment for the day, I knew that I was going to have to answer to her. She helped to keep me on track and, if nothing else, the guilt and embarrassment I felt whenever I had to admit that I didn’t write got me back on track by the very next day. My buddy shared her excitement and enthusiasm with me until I was able to dredge up my own reluctant enthusiasm—which inevitably and quickly transformed into true zest. A little healthy competition never hurts either, and it was always thrilling to compare word counts and see how I was doing compared to her. She always won, but it never stopped me from trying.

Finding a buddy to share your journey with is vital and important, but although a friend is invaluable for NaNoWriMo, unfortunately your friend can’t write your story for you. There are going to be times when even your friend is at as much of a loss as you are. That’s when you have to rely on yourself and your story. That time comes pretty quickly too—it’s called, week two.

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So, you have a buddy, you have a story, and you’ve made it through week one—you’re on a roll. Week two—brakes screech, cars crash, characters die, the world as you know it ends. All that lovely progress from week one has come to an abrupt and horrible halt, and even that buddy who helped you through every minute of week one can’t pull you out of the slump you find yourself in. You open your story, you read last week’s work, and you realize, “CRAP, my story is awful!”

First, shame on you for reading last week’s writing. Don’t do it again. Second, don’t panic! Week two is the bane. It’s the week that you just have to push through. Don’t worry about how bad your writing is from week one. It sucks. It’s just that simple. And you know what? It’s okay. You wrote over 11,000 words in a single week. That is a huge accomplishment, and you should be proud of yourself. Your story is there, it’s blossoming. Week two is all about letting that little, slightly ugly bud grow into something wonderful.

At the beginning of week two, there will come a time when you’ll look at that new blank page and wish that it would just stay blank—that’s when you have to turn off your brain. You are thinking too much. Week two is the chance for your characters, your setting, and your plot to tell your story—you’re just along for the ride. When you don’t know what to say, your characters will. You just have to push through the roadblock that you are invariably going to encounter.

Write down something stupid. Come up with a silly theme or concept. Maybe you need to add swashbuckling dwarves to your story to get it going, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s great. Maybe you have to describe a street corner in 1,700 words. That’s wonderful too. Do whatever it takes to get those words down, and your story will take you where you need to be.

Remember, you may be the author, but you’re not the only architect. Don’t be afraid to let your story wander off in a direction you never would have expected or wanted. That is what makes NaNoWriMo so wonderful and, frankly, exciting. You’ll realize fairly quickly that you aren’t really in charge. In 1,7000 words a day — pish-posh — that’s as easy as the pie your character just made for her grandma when you didn’t even know that your character had a grandma or liked pie!

Just start up your computer, place your fingers over those little square keys with the letters on them, and let your fingers and imagination fly. No matter how discouraged you are, write. No matter how tired, write. No matter how excited, write. Grab your buddy, go to the nearest coffee shop, sandwich shop, library, or park, and write together. Make it a competition or just make it an agglomeration, but make a promise to yourself and to your buddy that you will write the required words every day or your buddy will be allowed to haze you mercilessly.

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